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Coronavirus updates for western Washington: July 7-12

Find developments on Washington's coronavirus outbreak and the state's plan for recovery.

Editor’s note: This story shows updates about the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state from July 7-13, 2020.

Key facts:

  • People younger than 40 accounts for almost three-quarters of King County cases in past two weeks.
  • 14 new deaths and 1,438 new cases reported Sunday in Washington.
  • TOTAL: 1,438 deaths among 40,656 overall cases in Washington state.
  • 686,005 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 5.9% of those tests have been positive, according to the state Department of Health.

VIEW | More coronavirus coverage from KING 5

Sunday, July 12:

New coronavirus cases, deaths reported

There were 1,438 new coronavirus cases and 14 new deaths reported Sunday in Washington.

These totals represent new cases and deaths for two days. The Washington State Department of Health did not report new cases Saturday as the system was down for maintenance.

There are now 40,656 total confirmed cases and 1,438 deaths statewide.

State may have sent erroneous COVID-19 related messages

The Washington State Department of Health admitted Sunday that it may have erroneously sent fewer than 50 text messages and emails related to coronavirus while training new staff.

The department said it didn't turn off the ability for texts and emails to leave the test environment while staff trained on a data-sharing platform for case investigations and contact tracing.

Randomly created phone numbers and emails may have received messages between late May and early June, according to DOH.

After the department learned of the error Friday, it says it identified which emails and phone numbers could have received a message and sent a follow-up message Sunday asking people to disregard earlier messages.

People with questions can email DOH.Information@doh.wa.gov.

Coronavirus spread, not politics, should guide schools, doctors say

As the Trump administration pushes full steam ahead to force schools to resume in-person education, public health experts warn that a one-size-fits-all reopening could drive infection and death rates even higher.

They’re urging a more cautious approach, which many local governments and school districts are already pursuing.

But U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos doubled down on President Donald Trump's insistence that kids can safely return to the classroom.

“There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous,” she told Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday."

Still, health experts say there are too many uncertainties and variables for back-to-school to be back-to-normal.

Read more.

Saturday, July 11:

State health officials: 7-day average of new cases exceeds peak in March 

The Washington State Department of Health reported that while coronavirus transmission seems to be slowing in Yakima County — once the state's hotspot — it is "likely increasing everywhere else."

The seven-day average of new cases now exceeds the peak set in early March, the state said in its recent situation report issued this week. The report also stated that cases are increasing fastest among people under 40 across the state.

Hospitalization rates are still stable in Western Washington but increasing in Eastern Washington, with a notable uptick seen in Spokane County.

State officials attributed the curbing of transmission in Yakima County to the general public's adoption of face masks.

RELATED: Coronavirus cases climb on UW's Greek row amid outbreak

People younger than 40 accounts for almost three-quarters of King County cases in past two weeks

King County’s top public health official says COVID-19 isn’t going away soon, so people need to learn to make protecting each other’s health part of daily life. Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health - Seattle & King County, said Friday that people need to understand the long-term nature of COVID-19.

King County saw an average of 118 new cases per day during the week ending July 9. That’s nearly triple the daily average for the week ending June 9.

Duchin says people younger than 40 account for almost three-quarters of King County cases during the past two weeks.

Providence researchers developing unique COVID-19 vaccine in Portland

Researchers at Providence St. Joseph have submitted their research data to the FDA and are awaiting approval to move into phase one of a vaccine trial.

There are 20 vaccines under development worldwide and three in the U.S. that are in clinical trials.

But the vaccine being developed at Providence Cancer Institute in Portland is the only one that uses an immune stimulant, employing something called Interleukin 12 to promote an immune response.

It's based on earlier studies at the Providence Cancer Institute done by Andrew D. Weinberg, Ph.D.

"It showed when you added Interleukin 12 to older mice, it made them respond better to immunotherapy, and that's one of the reasons we're really focusing on that,” said Dr. Fox.

Researchers at Providence St. Joseph have submitted their research data to the FDA and are awaiting approval to move into phase one of a vaccine trial.

"We hope to have a green light from the FDA by the end of July, which would mean we could potentially start phase one of the trial in August," said Dr. Rom Leidner.

When they get FDA approval, Fox and Leidner plan to run two different trial age groups with healthy adults ages 18 to 50, and another with people over the age of 50.

Leidner called the component with older adults critical to their vaccine trial.

RELATED: Providence researchers developing unique COVID-19 vaccine in Portland

Friday, July 10:

Marysville child care center closed after outbreak among children

Snohomish Health District ordered the closure of Tender Hearts Day School in Marysville after an ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 among staff and children.

The health district reported 10 confirmed and four probable cases, primarily involving children.

The center is closed through July 14, the county said.

The county also announced that 51 people who had been staying at the Everett Gospel Mission Men's shelter are being temporarily moved to Snohomish County's quarantine site, after one individual tested positive at the shelter. 

The county said that the shelter closed out of an abundance of caution for cleaning and sanitizing, and that others who came into contact with the individual would also be tested. The county's quarantine and isolation site is at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds.

New Washington cases on July 10

  • 15 new deaths and 637 new cases reported Friday in Washington.
  • TOTAL: 1,424 deaths among 39,218 overall cases in Washington state.
  • 668,466 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 5.9% of those tests have been positive, according to the state Department of Health.

Victoria Clipper suspends service until next April

The Victoria Clipper is suspending service until April 2021 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Management cites continued extensions of the U.S. - Canada border closure to non-essential travel, Canada's mandatory extended 14-day self-quarantine restriction for international travelers, and the overall uncertainty surrounding the pandemic as reasons for suspending service.

The pandemic eliminated "the potential for any summer or fall travel, forcing the Clipper to suspend service," a statement reads. The summer period is critical for the Clipper's revenue. The loss of any summer operations makes year-round operations in 2020 "unrealistic." 

“We wholeheartedly agree with the steps and health precautions taken by Canadian and U.S. government officials to date to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission through non-essential travel,” said David Gudgel, CEO of Clipper. “Our intent in suspending operations is to hopefully allow ample time to pass so that we may return to service next spring when travel across the border is safe and welcomed once again.”

The Clipper's Canadian union employees will continue on temporary layoff until the anticipated return to service date of April 30, 2021. Seattle-based employees will be furloughed until the company begins returning to service.

Hospitalizations increase in King County

King County saw a small uptick in hospitalizations over the last two weeks as new coronavirus cases sharply increased.

The rate of hospitalizations per 100,000 residents increased from 0.8 to 1.3 in the last 14 days, according to Dr. Jeff Duchin, public health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.

Along with the trend of more young people contacting coronavirus – three-quarters of recent cases are among people under 40 years old – public health officials also noted an increase in hospitalizations among people 30-59 years old.

“We don’t know if this is going to portend a long-term trend or not,” Duchin said.

For now, Duchin said health officials are "keeping our eye" on hospitalizations.

UW back-to-school town hall 

The University of Washington is hosting a virtual town hall event for students, faculty, and staff previewing a return to school in the fall.

The town hall will be hosted by UW President Ana Mari Cauce from 10:30-11:30 a.m. It will include UW leaders who will address questions regarding the upcoming school year.

You can watch the town hall below or on UW's website.

Jobless claims being resolved 

Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine says that just under 35,000 people are waiting for resolution of their claims for unemployment benefits, and that questions around their claims should be resolved by the end of the month. 

More than 1.2 million people have filed claims for unemployment since early March when the pandemic job losses began, and more than 883,000 people who filed initial claims have been paid. 

To date, the state has paid more than $7.2 billion in benefits, two thirds of which is federal money that is providing the unemployed with an additional $600 a week on top of the state’s weekly maximum benefit of up to $790 per week. 

The federal program that provides the additional weekly assistance is set to expire at the end of the month.

'Mask Up' flag raising 

King County Executive Dow Constantine raised a flag on top of the Seattle Space Needle to remind people of all ages to wear masks.

Constantine hoisted a flag that reads "Mask Up," following the mandate that everyone wear a mask in public spaces in Washington state.

Thursday, July 9:

'Hogwash': Gov. Inslee slams Trump's threat to withhold school funding 

Gov. Jay Inslee says it will be up to the state to decide on how schools will reopen in the fall, despite comments from President Donald Trump this week. 

"We have seen the White House again threatening to attack our state," Inslee said during a press conference Thursday. 

Trump is pressuring state and local officials to reopen schools this fall, threatening to withhold federal funds from those that keep their learning remote.

"They are hogwash," Inslee said Thursday regarding the threats. "They [the White House] have tried to bully us into making decisions that are not best for Washington state. We have not been bullied, we will not be bullied," continued Inslee. 

The governor said local school districts, as well as colleges and universities, have been working diligently to come up with a plan for reopening in the fall. It could involve a combination of in-person and remote learning. 

Inslee said he plans to meet with Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal next week to hear the latest plans. 

Inslee said Washington will follow guidance from state and local health officials, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when it comes to reopening schools and the guidelines that need to be followed.

He added, "I think it would be well for the president to follow the guidance of his own Centers for Disease Control."

Earlier this week, the president complained the reopening guidelines set out by the CDC were "very tough and expensive" and the CDC was "asking schools to do very impractical things." 

Despite President Donald Trump's sharp criticism, federal guidelines for reopening schools are not being revised, the head of the CDC said Thursday.

Dr. Robert Redfield said the agency would be issuing “additional reference documents” for parents and schools to facilitate the reopening and deal with safety concerns in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. But he said there would be no changing of the overall guidance.

The latest coronavirus numbers in Washington state

  • 15 new deaths and 640 new cases reported Thursday in Washington.
  • TOTAL: 1,409 deaths among 38,581overall cases in Washington state.
  • 660,330 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 5.8% of those tests have been positive, according to the state Department of Health.

Sur La Table closing stores, seeking bankruptcy protection

Cookware and kitchen chain Sur La Table is closing more than 50 of its 121 stores as it seeks bankruptcy protection, the latest retail casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.

The privately held Seattle-based company says it has agreed to sell its remaining stores to affiliates of Fortress Investment Group following the bankruptcy procedure and store closures.

The post-sale company will also include its in-person and online cooking classes, and its e-commerce business. Sur La Table had its start in Seattle’s Pike Place Market in 1972.

Starbucks to require all customers to wear face masks

Starting July 15, Starbucks will require customers to wear face coverings at all of its 9,000 company-owned locations in the U.S. 

The company explained in a blog post Thursday that it is working to prioritize "the health and well-being" of both employees and customers. 

The company said customers not wearing a face mask will be able to pick-up orders at the drive-thru, via curbside pick-up or by placing an order for delivery through Starbucks Delivers.

Employees have already been required to wear face coverings since mid-March.

MORE: Starbucks to require all customers to wear face masks

New unemployment claims decrease 11% in Washington state

There was a decrease in initial unemployment claims in Washington state last week, but an increase in total claims for all unemployment benefit categories, according to the state Employment Security Department (ESD).

For the week of June 28 – July 4, there were 28,393 initial regular unemployment claims, which is an 11% decrease from the previous week. There was a total of 736,151 claims for all unemployment benefit categories, which is an increase of 5.7% from the previous week.

“Although the number of initial claims has dropped significantly since the height of the crisis, and even dipped since last week’s figures, our current ‘steady state’ of initial claims is about 89% higher than the peak of the Great Recession,” said ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine.

Since the week ending on March 7, there have been more than 2.2 million initial unemployment claims filed in Washington state. The ESD said it has paid out more than $7.2 billion in unemployment benefits since the start of the pandemic.

ESD working to resolve unemployment claims

The state Employment Security Department (ESD) Commissioner Suzi LeVine said 45,000 unemployment claims have been resolved in the past three weeks. This comes after the ESD resolved 200,000 cases held-up due to issues related to fraud.

The ESD said it is also hiring 100 people every other week, and 200 are onboarding next week including 80 interns for customer service and technology updates.

The department hopes the new technology updates will help smooth out the unemployment claims process as well.

Statewide pause of phased reopening may remain if cases climb

Officials say that if cases of coronavirus continue to increase, it's unlikely that a current statewide pause for counties looking to advance from their current stage of reopening will be lifted at the end of the initial two-week timeframe.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced the pause last week for the state's 39 counties, which are in various stages of a four-stage economic reopening plan.

Health Secretary John Weisman said Wednesday that not only will a continuation of daily increases keep counties paused where they are, but officials will also have to consider whether they need to roll back reopening in counties by whole phases, or make other changes. 

RELATED: Reopening Washington: Look up the phase of your county

Fred Hutch to lead COVID-19 vaccine trials

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center will lead coronavirus vaccine trials as part of a national effort to reduce the spread of the virus.

A team at the research center will coordinate at least five large scale trials over 100 clinical trial sites across the U.S. and internationally.

In a press release Dr. Larry Corey, a virologist with Fred Hutch, said the trials will meet the highest standards of safety and scientific accuracy.

MORE: Fred Hutch to lead COVID-19 vaccine trials

CDC says guidelines for reopening schools aren’t being rewritten

Despite President Donald Trump's sharp criticism, federal guidelines for reopening schools are not being revised, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

Dr. Robert Redfield said the agency would be issuing “additional reference documents” for parents and schools to facilitate the reopening and deal with safety concerns in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. But he said there would be no changing of the overall guidance.

Redfield commented a day after Trump complained the reopening guidelines were “very tough and expensive” and the CDC was “asking schools to do very impractical things.” Speaking of CDC officials, he tweeted, “I will be meeting with them.!!!"

MORE: CDC: Guidelines for reopening schools aren't being rewritten

1.3 million US workers file for unemployment

More than 1.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, a historically high pace that shows that many employers are still laying people off in the face of a resurgent coronavirus.

The persistently elevated level of layoffs are occurring as a spike in virus cases has forced six states to reverse their move to reopen businesses. Those six — Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan and Texas — make up one-third of the U.S. economy. Fifteen other states have suspended their re-openings. Collectively, the pullback has stalled a tentative recovery in the job market and is likely triggering additional layoffs.

Thursday’s report from the Labor Department showed that the number of applications for unemployment aid fell from 1.4 million in the previous week. The figure has now topped 1 million for 16 straight weeks. Before the pandemic, the record high for weekly unemployment applications was fewer than 700,000.

MORE: 1.3 million workers file for unemployment as layoffs remain historically high

Wednesday, July 8:

Duke's Chowder House on Alki Beach closed due to staff outbreak

On Wednesday, Public Health – Seattle & King County closed Duke’s Chowder House on Alki Beach due to an "ongoing outbreak" of COVID-19 among employees, the agency said.

There are no known cases among restaurant customers, health officials said. However, customers of Duke’s at Alki were advised to watch closely for any symptoms daily until 14 days after the restaurant visit.

The agency also said factors in the closure included the potential for workplace and employee transmission, and for non-compliance with Washington’s Safe Start Plan. According to the agency, the restaurant did not promote customer distancing.

In a statement, Duke's said it has been strictly following CDC and local health department guidelines and that employees who reported being exposed to coronavirus did not work on-site after exposure.

The company said that the employees affected included one in Bellevue, two in Tacoma, and seven in Alki.

MORE: Duke's Chowder House on Alki Beach closed due to staff coronavirus outbreak

New Washington cases for Wednesday, July 8, 2020

  • 10 new deaths and 521 new cases reported Wednesday in Washington.
  • TOTAL: 1,394 deaths among 37,941 overall cases in Washington state.
  • 645,072 people in Washington have taken a test for coronavirus and 5.9% of those tests have been positive, according to the state Department of Health.

Most fall UW classes to be held online

About 80% of fall courses through the University of Washington will be held remotely, and about 20% will be held in person, according to UW spokesperson Victor Balta.

Large classes with 50 or more students will be held online, according to a June 29 message from UW President Ana Mari Cauce.

The university will prioritize hands-on classes like studio, clinical and lab courses for in-person lessons. A class could also be blended. For example, the lecture portion of a course may be held remotely, but the discussion group could be in-person.

UW will also not schedule classes back-to-back if physical distancing is impossible in nearby hallways and queuing spaces. 

Class status for remote or in-person learning is listed by course on the university's time schedule.

130 frat house residents, 9 close contacts test positive

At least 130 fraternity house residents and nine other close contacts - all University of Washington students - have tested positive in the Greek Row outbreak.

The Interfraternity Council, a student-led governing board for UW fraternities, updated its own county July 7. That count indicates at least 151 residents living in 15 fraternity houses have self-reported that they have tested positive for COVID-19.

The university continues to conduct its own testing and verification of cases.

Summer lunch program in Tacoma parks continues 

Metro Parks Tacoma won't be able to host its annual Summer Playground program due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, its free lunch program will continue.

“While we can’t offer organized recreation activities at this time, it remains critical for many kids in our community to have access to the meals they rely on receiving in their local parks each summer,” explained Metro Parks Executive Director Shon Sylvia. “Those who qualify to receive free and reduced lunch during the school year continue to have nutritional needs during the summer. The free lunches we have historically provided each year are a vital service we need to sustain in areas of our community with the highest need.” 

A grant from Safeway's Nourishing Neighbors Relief Fund and partnership with Safe Streets will help provide the free lunches. 

Free lunch will be available to all youth under 18 years old at the following locations Monday through Friday from noon to 1 p.m. through Aug. 28: 

  • Franklin Park
  • 1201 S. Puget Sound Ave.
  • Verlo Playfield
  • 4321 McKinley Ave.
  • Portland Ave Park
  • 3513 Portland Ave.
  • South Park
  • 4851 S. Tacoma Way
  • Wapato Park
  • 6500 S. Sheridan Ave.
  • Wright Park
  • 501 South I St

Additional meal services can be found here.

Tuesday, July 7:

BBB warns of fake mask exemption cards

The Better Business Bureau is warning businesses of fake face mask exemption cards as Washington’s mandate forbidding service to unmasked customers went into effect.

A fake card circulating online among the group Freedom to Breathe Agency claims the cardholder is exempt from wearing a mask under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The card also claims wearing a mask is a mental or physical risk to the cardholder.

However, the card is not valid.

Inslee hopes masks, social distancing can prevent backsliding

As coronavirus activity increases across Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee signaled Tuesday he did not want to close Washington’s economy again saying the state would use other strategies to fight COVID-19.

Inslee said the state planned to rely on mask use, social distancing and contact tracing to keep the virus from spreading out of control.

“What has changed (since March) is we now have an ability hopefully to have the best of both worlds, to reopen our businesses at the right pace and wear masks to succeed in keeping this virus from overwhelming our hospitals,” Inslee said.

Inslee said he’s been pleased with how quickly people statewide have adopted masks. He pointed to Selah, where Inslee said the percentage of people wearing masks has increased from 25% to near 90% over the last month.

However, Inslee also warned if people don’t wear masks and the rate of positive tests and hospitalizations continue to increase, Washington may need to move backwards.

“We are concerned that could be in our near future if we don’t increase our performance here,” Inslee said. “That’s just a reality.”

Snohomish County hiring more contact tracers

Snohomish County is ramping up its contact tracing efforts as coronavirus cases continue to climb.

The county has hired half of its goal of 50 contact tracers and expects to hire 25 more this week, according to Ragina Gray, environmental health director for the Snohomish Health District. Those new hires are expected to get started in the next week or so.

Health officials say contact tracing, which tracks who may have come in contact with an infected person, will be key as the state works to contain the virus.

Snohomish County has seen a steady increase in new cases since the beginning of June, according to Dr. Chris Spitters, Snohomish County health officer. Over the last two weeks, the county saw 53 new cases per 100,000 residents, which is nearly triple the rate a month ago.

More than 40% of those recent cases were among adults 20-40 years old, which mirrors trends in King County. The demographics of coronavirus cases in Snohomish County has gotten younger since February and March when around 40% of new cases were among the elderly, according to Spitters.

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